49 Days of Definitions: Part I, Definition 3

This post is part of a series, “49 Days of Definitions”, discussing and explaining my thoughts and meditations on a set of aphorisms explaining crucial parts of Hermetic philosophy.  These aphorisms, collectively titled the “Definitions from Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius”, lay out the basics of Hermetic philosophy, the place of Man in the Cosmos, and all that stuff.  It’s one of the first texts I studied as a Hermetic magician, and definitely what I would consider to be a foundational text.  The Definitions consist of 49 short aphorisms broken down into ten sets, each of which is packed with knowledge both subtle and obvious, and each of which can be explained or expounded upon.  While I don’t propose to offer the be-all end-all word on these Words, these might afford some people interested in the Definitions some food for thought, one aphorism per day.

Today, let’s discuss the third definition, part I, number 3 of 5:

Just as soul keeps up the figure (while being) within the body, which cannot possibly be constituted without a soul, likewise all of that visible cannot possibly be constituted without the invisible.

A short definition, but perhaps perplexing.  It begins with an example to illustrate a later point (which is common for many of these aphorisms later on), but even the example is hard to understand without first clarifying some terms.  First, we have the body, which refers to our physical, corporeal bodies.  It’s understood in many schools of classical philosophy that Man is not merely a physical entity, but that we have some animating principle within us that itself or some link to it is kept within our bodies, something between the worlds of heaven and of God.  This animating principle may be seen as the soul, which moves the body and makes Man more than an animal or a peculiarly-arranged random mass of sinew and muscle.  However, the animating principle of the soul is itself hard to define; Agrippa basically says (book III, chapter 36) that the soul is the intermediary function that combines the intelligible mind (God) with the sensible body (heaven), binding the impressions and sensory data into a more-or-less unified whole (Man), especially as it pertains to occult virtues.  Further, Agrippa says nearly the same exact thing as the bits from the Corpus Hermeticum, the Asclepius, and the Definitions as above (emphasis in boldface mine):

The most abundant God (as Trismegisus saith) hath framed two Images like himself, viz. the world and man, that in one of these he might sport himself with certain wonderfull operations…he hath fabricated this externall world after the example of the Internall, viz. Ideall world, sending forth nothing of the essence of the Idea, but created of nothing that which he had from eternity by the Idea: God also created after his Image; for as the world is the Image of God, so man is the Image of the world. Hence some think that it is spoken, that man is not created simply the Image of God, but after the Image, or the Image of the Image; therefore he is called Microcosme, that is the lesser world; The world is a Rationall creature, Immortall; man in like manner is rationall but mortal, that is, dissolvable; for (as Hermes saith) seeing the world it self is immortall, it is Impossible that any part of it can perish. Therefore to dye [die], is a vain name, and even as Vacuum is no where, so also Death; Therefore we say a man dieth, when his Soul and body are separated, not that anything of them perisheth or is turned into nothing. Notwithstanding the true Image of God is his word. The wisdome, life, light and Truth existing by himself, of which Image mans soul is the Image, in regard of which we are said to be made after the Image of God, not after the Image of the world, or of the creatures; for as God cannot be touched, nor perceived by the ears, nor seen with the eyes; so the soul of man can neither bee seen, heard nor touched. And as God himself is infinite, and cannot be compelled by any, so also the minde of man is free, and cannot be enforced or bounded

Interesting parts with this text; we can see that the destruction of Man applies only to the body (world of Heaven), and not to the soul (world of Man), and that the body does not become void but becomes other material in the world (what happens in Heaven stays in Heaven).  Add to it, we can see that the soul of Man is not visible, nor is it sensible, similar to how God is, and that the soul of Man is made in the image of God, again confirming that the Idea or species of Man is the same as God itself.  Agrippa also gives us a little bonus here, saying that because God is immoveable, so too is the soul of Man immoveable, since both are intelligible, non-sensible, and of the same species; we’ll probably return to that later on, but it does indicate that there is a fundamental difference between the world of Man and the moveable world of Heaven.

So, we know that at least the body of Man must also be combined with the soul of Man in order for it to exist in the world of Man.  Thus, we know that the world of Man is also partly physical and partly nonphysical.  Similarly, so the definition goes, do all things that are visible require some invisible part as well, whether it be an animal, a stone, water, or a planet.  All things that exist in the worlds of Man or Heaven, therefore, must be at least partly visible and partly invisible.  After all, these are the sensible worlds, and the sensible worlds are within the intelligible God (as from definition I.1), who leaves some impression of his presence or effect or intelligence on all visible things, since he is “evident within the visible” (from definition I.2).  This evidence of God, then, is present in how all things function; it is not enough for Man to merely exist within God as Heaven does, but to function as a part of God, just as a body functions by being animated by the soul.

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About polyphanes
I'm a software developer and Hermetic occultist living near Washington, DC, USA. I claim that I'm youthful, dashing, daring, and other things. I make things and chant stuff, and periodically write about them.

One Response to 49 Days of Definitions: Part I, Definition 3

  1. Pingback: 49 Days of Definitions: Review | The Digital Ambler

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